Television

The Weirdest Details in Brand New Cherry Flavor That Weren’t in the (Still Pretty Weird) Book

A woman with an a cherry that resembles an eyeball in her mouth.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Netflix.

Brand New Cherry Flavor, a television adaptation of Todd Grimson’s 1996 cult horror novel, hit Netflix on Friday with a gory splash. Both the series and the novel it’s based on follow the supernatural trials and travails of an up-and-coming filmmaker in 1990s Los Angeles, but beyond the initial premise, the TV show and its source material are very different, in ways that speak to the distance between show creators Lenore Zion and Nick Antosca looking back at ’90s Hollywood from the 2020s, and a novelist writing about his own time. Here’s what changed on the journey from the page to the screen. Spoilers for both the novel and TV series Brand New Cherry Flavor follow.

Lisa Nova

Rosa Salazar in killer red lipstick.
Rosa Salazar as Lisa Nova. Netflix
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Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar), the filmmaker at the center of both versions of Brand New Cherry Flavor, has an entirely different background in the show and the novel. On Netflix, Nova is very nearly an overnight success, arriving in Los Angeles in the first episode in a beat-up Trans Am with VHS tapes of a single black-and-white short film, Mary’s Eye. That movie is enough to get her a meeting with Lou Burke, an A-list producer, who options her short and attaches her to direct. In the book, Nova has a longer résumé: She’s already co-directed a feature, Girl, 10, Murders Boys, about the Mary Bell killings and early in the novel attends a film festival in Seattle where they’re screening her feature and one of her shorts, an ultraviolent film called A New Asshole. (On the TV show, Nova puts up a poster from Girl, 10, Murders Boys in her apartment, but it isn’t otherwise mentioned.)

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When the novel opens, Nova’s been kicking around Los Angeles for more than two years without having accomplished much besides playing one of the victims in a slasher movie. That means that most of the “new kid in town” stuff in the series—Lisa finding a decrepit apartment, getting briefed on the realities of film contracts, feeling dazzled but out of place among Hollywood glitterati—were added for the show. The result is a weirdly romantic version of Hollywood in the 1990s that is not present in the novel at all. Grimson paints the city as a hyperreal inferno, full of designer drugs and exotic sex; Zion and Antosca’s version, where a talented filmmaker can roll into town and get a contract in 24 hours, is almost sentimental by comparison.

Lou Burke

Eric Lange clasps his hands together and laughs.
Eric Lange as Lou Burke. Netflix
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Netflix’s version of Brand New Cherry Flavor covers only the first 66 pages of the 344 page novel, and as a result, relatively minor characters in the book are fleshed out and blown up for the series. No character benefits more from this development than Lou Burke (Eric Lange), the producer who options Lisa Nova’s short, then fires her from the project after she rejects his advances. The show’s entire first season is structured around Nova’s quest for revenge against Burke, whereas in the book, he’s a minor figure—she isn’t even entirely sure of his last name—who she sleeps with willingly, then ditches after he fails to get her an assistant job. Here’s the passage where Burke tells Nova she’s not getting the job, a flashback to the days when novelists evoked the fast pace of 20th-century alienation with run-on sentences:

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The rich asshole told her that no, sorry, the job of assistant to the director he’d promised her, her dream job, the chance to work with and presumably get tight with Selwyn Popcorn, whose films she had always admired, cult-worshipped way back before film school—now, after two and a half fruitless, generally fucked up years out here, getting nowhere, ending up going to bed with this guy, whatever the hell his name was, Lou Greenwood, Lou Adolph, Lou Burke, Lisa meanwhile not getting any younger at twenty-six, totally broke at the moment too, just everything—Lou said sometimes things came up, he couldn’t help it, somebody’s daughter had been promised, it was a fait accompli … so would she like to be second second AD on the project?

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In the novel, Lisa seeks revenge against Lou not because he’s stolen a film project or made an inappropriate pass at her, but because at the end of the lunch where he tells her she’s not getting the assistant job, he gives her a phone number to call if she needs money. When she makes the call, she ends up being cast in some sort of vaguely described pornographic video project. (Lisa is given drugs and doesn’t clearly remember what happened; a rumored videotape of the event is one of the book’s MacGuffins.) The idea that Lou has committed some sort of sexual transgression against Lisa carries through to the series, but all of the thematic stuff about Lisa losing authorship of a film was added for the show.

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Because Lou is more of a speed bump than an actual villain in the book, the nature of Lisa’s revenge is both quicker and nastier than in the series. On screen, Burke has a TV season’s worth of body horror agony, starting with a nosebleed, progressing to hiccups, and, in a disgusting finale, finishing with a tapeworm-type bug colonizing his sinuses, then severing his optic nerves and blinding him when Lisa reels it out of his tear duct. In the book, he is raped by zombie bikers, and eventually tortured, murdered, cut into pieces, and nailed to a wall in a sort of tableau of suffering. Unlike in the series, the Lou of the book doesn’t seek out revenge against Lisa; he’s dead before he really figures out what’s happening. (The boneheaded hitmen Lisa originally gets to help her steal some of Lou’s pubic hair in the series do show up in the novel, but Lou never hires them to turn the tables and get revenge on Lisa.)

Roy Hardaway

Jeff Ward gestures with a cigarette between his fingers.
Jeff Ward as Roy Hardaway. Netflix
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Roy Hardaway, the self-destructive A-list actor who serves as Lisa’s love interest in the show, is a much less pleasant figure in the novel. In the series, Hardaway (Jeff Ward) meets Lisa through Lou Burke, and they get to know each other more or less organically, running into each other outside a sushi restaurant, at an art show, at a party. In the novel, Hardaway becomes obsessed with Lisa after seeing her at the pornographic video shoot. She doesn’t remember him being there, but he finds her number in the phone book and starts leaving messages on her answering machine. In the novel, Hardaway’s fatal visit to Boro’s house is the first time he hangs out with Lisa in person. (She finally returns his calls in the hope he can offer her some protection from Boro—things do not work out that way.)

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The novel’s Roy is way more of a creep, and his death matters more than Lou Burke’s only because his disappearance causes complications for Lisa. On the other hand, in the book, Roy gets a long afterlife as a shrunken head, which so far has not happened in the Netflix series.

Boro

Catherine Keener, wearing a fur coat, holds a kitten to her face.
Catherine Keener as Boro. Netflix
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Boro, the semi-immortal warlock who enables Lisa’s revenge, has been gender-swapped to allow Catherine Keener to play the role on TV. In both versions, Boro began life as a man in pre-Columbian Central America, and although his origin story is spelled out in a little more detail in the novel, it’s essentially the same thing: He made a deal with a white jaguar in exchange for magic powers, became a great leader with the jaguar’s help, betrayed the jaguar when it asked him to sacrifice his wife, and has been on the run ever since, aided by a small army of reanimated zombies. On TV, Boro ages normally but is able to jump from one body to another. He looks like Catherine Keener in 1990 because a few years earlier, he hijacked the body of a suburban housewife. (Including Get Out and Being John Malkovich, Keener has now appeared in at least three body-theft projects.) In the novel, Boro is still living in his original pre-Columbian body and looks like this:

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Boro was so ugly he was distinctive, not ugly-handsome but certainly memorable, with long dreadlocks and all kinds of tattoos all over his body, symbols and signs rather than screaming skulls or lions or names. … His teeth, when he smiled, looked like dentures; he wore a braided vest, no shirt, a little leather bag hung from a string around his neck. He had on very old dirty jeans and beat-up black boots.

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Actually, in the book he’s only living in most of his pre-Columbian body, because after falling out with the jaguar, his own people cut off his hands, feet, tongue, and genitals, which he’s replaced with other people’s, Frankenstein-style.

At the very end of the novel, Boro discovers he can jump to another body, but it’s the first time he’s done it; on TV, he’s been doing it for centuries. That means all the body-swap subplots were invented for the series. In the book, Lisa can’t investigate Boro’s past life in the suburbs because he doesn’t have one.

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Since the novel’s Boro doesn’t know that he can swap bodies for most of the book, he’s not plotting to steal Lisa’s body, which changes the entire dynamic between them. In the novel, Boro doesn’t have any grand plans for Lisa: She seeks him out, instead of vice versa, and besides the fun he takes in ruining Lou Burke’s life, she doesn’t seem all that important to him. She doesn’t have any magical powers he’s trying to steal, either, and the entire subplot of Lisa paying for Boro’s services with kittens was added for the show. (Needless to say, her lack of magical powers in the book means her ability to vomit up kittens is also a total invention for TV.) In the book, Boro eventually settles out with Lisa for $10,000 in small bills, which is not nothing, but not exactly jaguar powers or eternal life.

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The result is that the TV series’ Lisa Nova is more sympathetic: She’s new in town, Boro seeks her out because he wants to steal her body, and before she knows it, she’s in over her head. The novel’s Lisa gets in over her head too, but at least she chose to dive in .

Mary Gray

Mary Gray, the unlucky star of Lisa Nova’s short film Mary’s Eye, played by Siena Werber in the series, doesn’t exist in the novel, because neither does Mary’s Eye. She has an analogue in the novel’s Mary Siddons, a teenage actress Lisa casts to play Mary Bell in Girl, 10, Murders Boys, but Siddons doesn’t lose an eye for Lisa’s art or seek revenge. In the book, Lisa’s film is a conventional production, not the peyote-fueled catastrophe of the TV series. Siddons does have her share of struggles in the book, though: When Nova runs into her a few years after making the movie, she’s playing in a noise band called Bloody Murder and has picked up a neo-Nazi boyfriend; later, she’s strung out on heroin.

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Siddons is a very minor figure in the book, though, and although there’s some suggestion that being cast as a child murderer did not exactly get her started off on the right foot, she’s not explicitly a casualty of Lisa’s career. As a result, the book’s Mary is not seeking revenge and does much less to move the plot forward. Virtually all of the TV version’s repeated references to vision and blindness, starting with Mary’s Eye, were invented for the show.

Christine, Lisa’s best friend and sometime collaborator in the book, is completely absent from the TV series, but Mary Gray picks up some of the thematic threads Christine carries in the novel: They’re both Lisa’s former collaborators who end up seeking out Boro and making deals of their own. (There is a different character who happens to be named Christine in the series, but she bears no resemblance to the Christine of the book.)

The Last 80 Percent or So of the Novel

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To the extent the TV adaptation of Brand New Cherry Flavor follows the novel’s plot, it doesn’t follow it very far: The events of the series finale take place about 20 percent of the way through the book. Later in the novel, Lisa travels to Brazil, reunites with her father, undergoes a catastrophic exorcism, and jump-starts her film career by eating a corpse vine and going to sleep with her head near the film reels of a documentary about ants, which somehow transforms the documentary into a feature about the Spanish conquest of Mexico directed by Lisa Nova and starring the late Roy Hardaway. (In the series, there’s an allusion to this plotline at the art show where Lisa meets Roy with the mask that turns the wearer’s thoughts into projected video.)

If Brand New Cherry Flavor gets a second season, the showrunners will not run out of plot for a very long time. On the other hand, Zion and Antosca created so many new plotlines and characters for the TV show, they could just as easily set off in uncharted directions. Assuming, of course, they’re not too busy vomiting up cats to pay for the first season.

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